I find myself an unreserved seat. Netravati Express leaves Madgaon on time. Soon we are chugging through the darkness.
‘Why are your feet on the seat? This is General dibba. This is not your train,’ shouts a Mumbaikar. In any other tone with a bit of politeness, I would have agreed with him but he was behaving as if he owned the train. The old man sitting next to me put down his feet. The Mumbaikar is still not satisfied.
‘You cannot sleep here. Only for sitting. Get up,’ he commands a woman half-reclined on the seat. She reluctantly complies.
Soon he is comfortably seated but he is not satisfied with that. He wants to be the day’s hero.
‘Why are you standing?’ he asks one of the guys standing in the aisles. ‘Ask him to move. Everyone has to adjust.’
This goes on and on. I lose my cool and pick a fight with him for disturbing my sleep. For the rest of journey we argue about Mumbai and their proclaimed superiority over the rest of India. It is good entertainment for everyone and I quite enjoy it.
At about quarter past six in the morning, the train pulls into Mangalore station. I get off for a coffee break. The coffee is bad but the morning sun more than makes up for it. These few minutes at Mangalore are nostalgic for me. It was in Mangalore I did my SSLC from Milagres High School and it was here that I lived for six years. My mind goes back to the days at school, the morning assemblies and the evening cricket sessions. I can see before me the faces of my teachers, some smiling, some frowning. I can see the old buildings disappearing with my faded memories. A couple of classmates come out from some corner of my brain. I haven’t been in touch with any of them. I wonder where they are now.
At about half past seven we arrive into Kasargod. It is too early in the day to check into any hotel. I decide to do a couple of visits in the morning. I get a bus to the village of Madhur where there is a temple dedicated to Srimad Anantheswara. I find in the sanctum the head of Shiva crowned by a serpent hood. A side entrance to the sanctum gives darshan of Ganapathi, a popular deity of worship in this temple, perhaps even more popular than Shiva himself. The image of Ganapathi is too far and the interiors are too dim to make out anything. The few flickering oil lamps in the sanctum are hardly enough for darshan.
Disappointed I step out from the aisles into the courtyard where rain water has collected in little pools. Green moss has covered parts of the courtyard in thin layers. The monsoon has left its mark on the walls as well. Outside the main shrine within the inner courtyard a priest is doing Ganesha homam. As devotees look on and follow the rituals as directed, I notice that the entire ceremony is conducted in Kannada. Kasargod is at the border of Karnataka and Kerala. It is common to hear conversations in Kannada in this town.
Elsewhere, priests are cutting vegetables, perhaps in preparation for lunch. There is a dining hall outside where free meals are served at fixed times. Big vessels stand in a corner. Among them is an appam plate. It is a custom in this temple to once in a while to cover the Ganapathi idol with appams. It is a special ceremony of this temple. On a Saturday, the temple is quite busy with pujas, homas and abhishekams. People line up to buy prasadams.
Architecturally, this is a temple in the unique Keralan style – tiled sloping roofs with deep eaves, crafted wooden brackets, striking gables projected over roofs and supported by sculpted wooden columns. The main shrine’s roofs are on many levels and together they can be considered to be of pagoda style architecture. The temple is enclosed by walls with verandahs on the inside. The walls are all roofed in the typical manner. The main shrine is boarded around with wooden lattice work to which are attached hundreds of metal lamps. In the evenings it would be quite a sight when these lamps are lit. Most interestingly, the temple is apsidal. This gives it a unique character. The wide cloistered courtyard around the temple displays the latter to best effect. A mandapa faces the entrance to the sanctum. The main shrine is strictly off limits and devotees must be contented to view the proceedings from a distance.
Steps from the temple’s eastern side leads to a small tank by the quietly flowing River Madhuvahini. A bodhi tree stretches its branches across the river’s flow. Tall palms line the banks and their reflections dance in the waters. Water striders in small pools by the margins do their ballets. Mynahs call in the shades of thick trees. Blue patches of sky peek from an otherwise grey cloudy sky.
Upon leaving the temple, I enquire about getting to another famous temple of the region, the Ananthapura Lake Temple. Buses to the temple don’t exist but I can take a bus to Seethangodi where I can change for another bus to Naykapu. From Naykapu it is only a couple of kilometers. Locals are forthcoming with valuable information on such things. I owe a lot to them for making all my journeys a success. I am surprised how cheap bus fares are in these parts. Here they continue to use fifty paise coins. My ride to Seethangodi costs me Rs. 4.50. The conductor actually takes the trouble to return my fifty paise change.
From Naykapu I take an auto-rickshaw to the lake temple. The morning had started well but right now it is a heavy downpour. It is raining so heavily that I discover that my umbrella has a leak. I wrap up my boots in a plastic bag and leave it outside the temple. I pass two stone idols drenched in the rain to a wonderful gleam. They are facing the entrance with folded palms. One is Garuda. The other is Hanuman.
This is a unique temple. The main shrine is built in the middle of a lake and it is accessed by a walkway. The shrine exhibits pagoda style architecture but it is less impressive than the one seen earlier today. I can see that the temple has been recently renovated or repaired. The tiles on the roofs look new. The mandapa facing the shine has some murals on the ceiling. These appear to be modern work of art and not particularly impressive. Lesser shrines in the temple complex, outside the lake, have nicely carved balustrades.
After a brief darshan, I return to the entrance where a priest is sitting by the doorway. It is not comfortable walking bare-chested in this cold weather. I quickly put on my shirt as the priest looks on.
‘There are five idols in the sanctum. They are made of a paste of ayurvedic medicines,’ he explains to me in Kannada. ‘We use smaller metal idols for pujas and abhishekams.’
‘Is there a crocodile here in this lake?’ I ask. I had read somewhere about this resident crocodile.
‘Yes,’ replies the priest. ‘Right now it is near the river,’ pointing to the left of the temple.
‘Will it not harm people?’
‘Not at all,’ replies the priest. In fact, the question seems silly to him. ‘Whatever we offer to the gods, we offer to the crocodile.’
I walk out in the rain to the smaller shrines and make my way to the river bank. I am looking intently at the water’s surface, scanning the weed-covered margins and buses in shadows beyond. I can’t make out anything of this holy crocodile. Is it real or another piece of legend? Seeing is believing.
I return to Kasargod, check into a nice hotel and have a nice thali lunch at Vasanth Vihar. It is common in these parts to serve thick round rice which they call “boiled rice.” I am happy that the morning has gone well and a good part of the day is still left.
There are a couple of mosques in town. Near the railway station I passed this morning the Khizar Juma Masjid. With long sloping roofs and projected gables, it is quite a bit the influence of local architecture. Mosques are different from temples but local architecture has a way of parring down differences. It is one of the most secular things around.
The more famous mosque of the region is the Malik Deenar Masjid at Talangara, a suburb of Kasargod. I arrive at this mosque in the evening just as shops near the mosque are busy laying out neat rows of tables and chairs. This is the fasting month of Ramzan. Back in town I had seen Muslims busy shopping – fruits, dates, meat and sweets. The market scene is pretty busy a couple of hours before the break of fast.
The mosque must have been beautiful once. Today, with the addition of modern style extensions, it lacks uniformity of mood. The central projected gable over the roofs in three tiers is interesting. At one level, the walls slope outwards with voluted brackets.
People are praying intently in the Malik Deenar Masjid. Even kids as young as six are mouthing words of prayer. They may not mean much to them yet, any more than nursery rhymes, but prayer and devotion is a matter of faith inculcated at a young age. Understanding comes later. At the ablution tank, an occasional breeze makes quiet ripples. Teenagers hang around the entrance. Someone leads the gathering and everyone follows. In time, they disperse. The wooden clock on the wall that so far said 4 pm is set to 6:48 pm. This is the time for breaking the fast.
Someone hands out little plastic bags. He approaches me and hands me a bag.
‘I am not a Muslim,’ I explain.
‘That’s okay. This is for one and all,’ he replies with a smile. ‘No one who comes here must go empty-handed. I am happy you are here.’
I accept the bag. It contains bananas, dates, samosas and what looks like a chapati. I thank him for the offering. I leave Talangara at about six. Back in town, I head back to Vasanth Vihar and have a wonderful Mysore Masala Dosa Special. I supplement this simple dinner with the offerings from the mosque.